By Qadir for Boston Compass Blog
December 4, 2020
One of the most important levels of existing is to recognize the concept of "Self-Love", a level that one could obtain and understand the simplicity that is deeply rooted within. This concept of understanding your emotions and being able to nurture yourself on such a deep level is thoroughly heard through the beautiful, nostalgic sounds and warm-felt vocals of Kass Richards. Her long list of instruments that in which she knows how to play (Dulcimer, electric guitar, nylon string guitar, etc) has landed her in the space of creativity, allowing her to go deep diving into the intertwining worlds of indie and folk music.
“While there is joy to be found on The Language Shadow, it is a joy that is marked by a patient cultivation of mindfulness granted to the witness of repeated grief.”
—Kass Richards on Bandcamp
The talented singer-songwriter, Kass Richards, who is currently living in the Boston area has had the time to work on a spiritual fulfilling album that encounters her deep connection with storytelling; this is an Artist that should be on everyone’s radar going into the year of 2021. Now, before the pandemic started putting restrictions on society’s freedom of public enjoyment, Kass Richards was already working on the upcoming album “The Language Shadow” in November of 2019 while being a part of Meghan Remy's “U.S. Girls" band. With the consistent back-to-back tour dates and sleepless nights, Richards ended up finishing the album in March of 2020, once the pandemic began to roll out it left Richards with some time to be in the studio to mix and master the entire album in order for it to be perfectly released.
Richards, under Good Cry Records, has already released two singles from the upcoming album in which is dropping today. “Atlantis”, a song off the album with an animation video that uniquely depicts the full imagery of her lyricism could be seen on youtube and on her own bandcamp link. With an artist like Richards emerging through the streets of Boston, we could only begin to admire her work ethic and talent as they intertwine beautifully. Once you listen to her voice and the weight of her words as they flow with the well crafted sounds of each song, you’ll come to recognize that Kass Richards has a lot more in store.
Q&A WITH KASS RICHARDS
So you’ve done tours with the U.S. Girls band, and have just got done making your first solo album, how long have you been making music for?
Kass R: I started touring with U.S. Girls in October of 2017. That was the first time I was on a more concentrated tour schedule, traveling a lot, all over the place, for multiple years. I’ve been playing music since I was a kid. Eleven or twelve years old. It has been a part of my life for almost all of my life. When I was in high school I had friends who were really into music and there was definitely a local music scene. I grew up in a very small town, in the rural part of northern Virginia. Shows were mostly at community centers and “teen centers,” then I became old enough to travel to Arlington and D.C. and that was really exciting. I played and sang casually with friends in high school, then joined my first band in college. We played throughout those years, mostly locally (near Harrisonburg, VA, where I was going to JMU). Then I moved to Philly and I was involved with a couple of other bands and the local music scene there, before moving to Cambridge and eventually starting to tour with U.S. Girls (who are based in Toronto). All this to say, making and being involved in music have always been there in some form.
What kind of music would you say you make?
Kass R: I’m really open to making most kinds of music. I tend toward more traditional forms, I think, mostly because it’s so accessible. It’s really appealing to me that you can just pick up a guitar and start playing and singing without having to hook anything up or spend time making it sound a certain way. I’m definitely open to experimenting with effects, but the more traditional approach is definitely a foundation for me. This informed the album for sure. I basically played everything live, on one track--guitar and vocals--to start. I made a point of not playing the songs over and over again, because I didn’t want anything to get lost in the repetition. It’s like capturing some kind of kinetic energy that’s in the air. Even if there are “mistakes,” it’s still interesting. It’s more about capturing a moment rather than perfecting it.
So I would play a song once or twice, Shae (sound engineer) would track it, and then Basia, Tim or Geordie would go back and listen to the track with headphones and pretty much improvise a more ‘treated’ instrumental to accompany the song and fill it out a bit more (through organs, synths, electric guitar).
The storytelling element of more traditional music has always been appealing to me. It helped educate me when I was starting out playing. It was really appealing to me that I could learn these really long ballads fairly quickly, simply because the lyrics were following a narrative, a storyline, and that I could accompany myself on guitar with fairly simple chords and a whole world could be created out of that. I’ve spent many nights just sitting around with friends and extended family playing and singing old songs. I miss it a lot especially now that it’s not really possible with the pandemic. I think those moments when music and everyday life are pretty much blended together are really interesting, when there aren’t necessarily boundaries, but the music is still being taken seriously. I really think of it as an ancient human tradition and a branching off of storytelling and I think you can find yourself in these moments when you feel connected to that.
This question is based on the single off your album “Daughter”, could you tell us what inspired you to make that song and the video for it?
Kass R: I wrote “Daughter” after picking up a teenage hitchhiker, about four years ago. I had been staying solo on Martha’s Vineyard-- I had saved up some money and rented a place there so I could kind of just be in this ‘cave space’ all alone and write and also not do anything at all. The island is a really magical place. It’s pretty small, but from one mile to the next you can be in a drastically different kind of ecosystem. For one thing there’re all these tidal ponds. So you not only have the ocean, tossing up everything and crashing on the shore, but you also have these sort of liminal spaces, where the ocean water gets mixed in with more calm, still water, that rises and falls throughout the day with the tides. I think that’s part of the strange mindset it puts you in to be there, that for one thing it’s isolated, and you’re also finding yourself in all these in-between spaces. It’s like you’re constantly being presented with some sort of opening, or closing. Now, I was driving from one part of the island to another, and I decided to take a road I hadn’t taken before. (A lot of what I love about the island too is that it reminds me of where I grew up).It was cloudy and gray and drizzling and visibility wasn’t that great, and all of the sudden I saw this girl walking along the side of the road. It really startled me at first because she was walking ‘with’ traffic on the side that I was driving. I was definitely concerned about her so I pulled over and asked her if she needed a ride, it struck me how nonchalant she was, like she could take or leave the ride. Again I had mostly spent time on the island completely alone, so I was fascinated by this person who had just appeared out of nowhere.
Within minutes of picking her up, I got into this conversation with her about where she was coming from-- how she had fallen asleep at her boyfriend's house and was going to be in trouble, like a real life ‘Wake Up Little Susie’ story, how her family didn't take her seriously, and some other generally relatable teenage problems. I found myself being at the same time entirely sympathetic, in solidarity with her, frustrated along with her that she was likely going to get into trouble with her parents, and also extremely protective, even though I had literally just met her. In other words I told myself I was listening to her, but I was also having a full-on conversation in my head, without her. It’s a benign example, but this kind of irony—of pretending to listen when you’re actually having a conversation with yourself—is at the crux of all communication. The encounter was a turning point for me. I was very aware of my ‘motherliness’ toward her, which is to say I was very aware that I was older, that I had transitioned from being a ‘peer,’ that my role had shifted, and was irreversible.
Then I wondered, was I really thinking about myself? My own encounters with my mom when I was younger? In a way it felt like I was revisiting my teenage self and also acknowledging how much had transpired since I was that age, how much had changed. The lyrics are intentionally simple really but they are intended to unpack more complex, sometimes seemingly impossible to articulate ideas about relationships in general, and all the communication that can potentially get lost in the midst. But in particular parent/child, mother/daughter relationships. The song is a testament to everyday, seemingly mundane moments that have the potential to be profoundly transformative, if we are paying attention. I dropped her off at the end of her parents driveway and that was it. I first found her walking along the side of the road with her back turned away from me, and I left her this way too, watching her walk away, down her parents’ driveway. So in my memory she is always walking away from me. The encounter stayed with me. The car is a really intense, intimate, emotional place.
The video was essentially an extension of these ideas. I basically wanted to put the story of the song to visuals. Lindsey Martin, the co-director, is a very old friend of mine and a filmmaker and educator who now lives in Ohio. I’ve always loved her work, and she focuses a lot on familial and intimate relationships in her filmmaking, so I thought she’d be a perfect fit. Initially I asked her if she wanted to make the video herself, then she followed up by asking me if I wanted to come to Ohio and we could make it together. So that’s what we did. She guided the process, really organized everything. She asked me to make a storyboard to start, so we could have an idea of the shots we wanted. Then she did all the location scouting and set up rehearsals for who would eventually become the “Daughter” character (played by Julia Kuzmich).
Then I traveled to Ohio and we filmed the video over two early mornings, a Saturday and a Sunday, edited on Sunday afternoon and we were done. Lindsey and I both are really into film. We had talked about the kinds of visuals we wanted, the tone and the feel, before I traveled to Ohio. I had recently seen Portrait of a Lady on Fire and was obsessed, not just with the story itself, which is absolutely shattering (I had to spend several minutes collecting myself before leaving the theater when I first saw it), but the visual feel of it: the natural lighting, the muted colors. The whole film is like a moving portrait. And I had spent the winter, before everything shut down, watching Agnès Varda films at the Brattle near where I live, and also renting them from the library. In Jacquot de Nantes, a tribute to her late husband Jacques Demy, Varda has these extreme closeups, of his hair, his skin. I wanted to recreate that tenderness in the “Daughter” video. So for the closeup shots of Julia, where you’re kind of taken out of the car and it’s just her face and a black backdrop, it was that tenderness we were trying to capture, sort of blended with Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests, which are also very striking to me. So again because Lindsey and I have sort of grown up being obsessed with film I think the video for “Daughter” really came out like a short film. It has a cinematic feel to it that was very intentional.
In regards to The Language Shadow album cover, it's very intriguing. Could you tell us a little bit about it and what made you choose it to be the official cover?
Kass R: Years ago, I played a solo show in Charlottesville, VA, where I’m still connected to a lot of friends and an extended music/arts community. My friend Allyson (Mellberg-Taylor) approached me at some point after the show and said that if I ever needed artwork for an album that she would love to do it. That was pretty much it for me. I love Allyson’s work. She’s an artist and educator living in that area and I’ve known her for a long time. When I was in college I interned at a gallery that her husband used to run, in Harrisonburg. There’s just always been a connection. I knew I could trust her with the artwork completely so that was it. I think I sent her some demos to start, to give her an idea of what I was thinking of recording, and some general notes around where my thinking was in making the songs. That was over a year ago. Then we kept in touch and I sent her the unmastered mixes after we finished recording, and she basically just sat with them, listened to them, and drew what came to mind. Then made a painting from there. She created the painting from egg tempera, with all non-toxic pigments, from earth/plant/mineral sources. The green in some of the leaves is actually turquoise.
The making of this album and everything extending from it is intentionally collaborative. I didn’t really do much to inform the cover, other than send the music to Allyson and give some contextual notes. But otherwise I did not do any directing. That was very intentional. I knew Allyson would make something incredible no matter what and it was more interesting to me to see what she would come up with, how she would interpret the album in her own listening, rather than me guiding it or informing it in any substantial way.
It was the same with the “Atlantis” video. My friend Sara (Ludy) is an incredible artist. We’ve known each other since we were kids, since middle school. I knew she would be perfect to make the first video for the album. I knew I could trust her completely. I sent her some notes, similar to what I did with Allyson, and she basically took it and ran with it, creating a 3D video using free video game software. It’s totally Sara. It’s also totally me, totally us, our relationship, our openness with each other and our lifelong interest in making things.
Kass Richards just released her first solo album "The Language Shadow" today. Check it out here!
Interview and Editorial Shoot completed by Qadir, @Qadir__shabazz
This piece was made possible through the Boston Arts and Culture Covid-19 Relief Fund. Thank you for supporting our local writers and creators!